Looking Back on Women in Focus: The 19th in 2020

Last January, which now feels like approximately 8,000 Januarys ago, we here at Booklist set out to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the ratification of the Nineteenth Amendment. The precise date of the historic milestone was August 26, 2020, but our celebration went year-round: we underscored reviews of powerful, female-centered stories with a special “Women in Focus: The 19th in 2020” tag in all 22 issues (in print and online); held webinars (one in June, one in October); published feature articles dedicated to subjects such as reproductive rights, Black women artists, and the long history of excluding Black voices from the fight for women’s suffrage; and the list goes on.

Of course, as history teaches us, no single event—no matter how momentous—can act as a catchall remedy, and nowhere is this more evident than in our ongoing battle against this country’s white supremacist underpinnings. The Nineteenth Amendment, for one, failed to protect the enfranchisement of Black, Latina, and Native American women, and indeed, voter suppression still looms large today. Our yearlong focus, too, as evidenced in the word “yearlong”and in its coverage of the amendment’s and the movement’s shortcomingsis but one step in an ongoing march.

And while we look back on the year and every adult book reviewed in Booklist in 2020 with a Women in Focus designation (heads-up: there’s 153 of them), we also acknowledge the importance of looking ahead, to celebrating and amplifying women’s voices always, no matter the year. Below you’ll find stories of congresswomen and queens, doctors and pilots, rock stars and writers, and in the coming weeks we’ll revisit Women in Focus titles for youth and on audio, too (plus, access to each and every one of these reviews is open and free). As is so often the case with women’s stories, these books are fierce, unflinching, and full of wisdom. They’re stories for all times, for all readers, and they’ll remain that way.

So we now share this list of women-centric books and our commitment to continuing to make strides in the march onward. 

Adult Nonfiction


Ladies Get Paid: The Ultimate Guide to Breaking Barriers, Owning Your Worth, and Taking Command of Your Career, by Claire Wasserman (Gallery)

Power Moves: How Women Can Pivot, Reboot, and Build a Career of Purpose, by Lauren McGoodwin (HarperBusiness)


Our Lady of Perpetual Hunger, by Lisa Donovan (Penguin)

Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters, by Dominique Crenn (Penguin)

Geography & Travel

Braver Than You Think: Around the World on the Trip of My (Mother’s) Lifetime, by Maggie Downs (Counterpoint)

Health & Medicine

★ The Doctors Blackwell: How Two Pioneering Sisters Brought Medicine to Women and Women to Medicine, by Janice P. Nimura (Norton)

★ Empty, by Susan Burton (Random)

This Is Big: How the Founder of Weight Watchers Changed the World—and Me, by Marisa Meltzer (Little, Brown)

Women and Health: Global Lives in Focus, by AnnJanette Alejano-Steele (ABC-CLIO)


The American Women’s Almanac: 500 Years of Making History, by Deborah G. Felder (Visible Ink)

Code Name Madeleine: A Sufi Spy in Nazi-Occupied Paris, by Arthur J. Magida (Norton)

★ The Dragons, the Giant, the Women, by Wayétu Moore (Graywolf)

★ Eleanor, by David Michaelis (Simon & Schuster)

★ The Equivalents: A Story of Art, Female Friendship, and Liberation in the 1960s, by Maggie Doherty (Knopf)

★ Fannie Lou Hamer: America’s Freedom Fighting Woman, by Maegan Parker Brooks (Rowman & Littlefield)

★ Franci’s War: A Woman’s Story of Survival, by Franci Rabinek Epstein (Penguin)

★ HRH: So Many Thoughts on Royal Style, by Elizabeth Holmes (Macmillan)/Celadon)

The Indomitable Florence Finch: The Untold Story of a War Widow Turned Resistance Fighter and Savior of American POWs, by Robert J. Mrazek (Hachette)

★ Lady in Waiting: My Extraordinary Life in the Shadow of the Crown, by Anne Glenconner (Hachette)

The Light of Days: The Untold Story of Women Resistance Fighters in Hitler’s Ghettos, by Judy Batalion (Harper)

Love in the Blitz: The Long-Lost Letters of a Brilliant Young Woman to Her Beloved on the Front, by Eileen Alexander (Harper)

★ No Place for a Woman: The Struggle for Suffrage in the Wild West, by Chris Enss (Rowman & Littlefield)

★ Paper Bullets: Two Artists Who Risked Their Lives to Defy the Nazis, by Jeffrey H. Jackson (Algonquin)

Queens of the Crusades: England’s Medieval Queens, by Alison Weir (Ballantine)

She Proclaims: Our Declaration of Independence from a Man’s World, by Jennifer Palmieri (Grand Central)

★ The Silver Swan: In Search of Doris Duke, by Sallie Bingham (Farrar)

Stranger in the Shogun’s City: A Japanese Woman and Her World, by Amy Stanley (Scribner)

★ This Is What America Looks Like: My Journey from Refugee to Congresswoman, by Ilhan Omar (Morrow)/Dey St.)

Warriors and Witches and Damn Rebel Bitches: Scottish Women to Live Your Life By, by Mairi Kidd (IPG/Black & White)

We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love and Resistance, by Linda Sarsour (Atria/37INK)

The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II, by Katherine Sharp Landdeck (Crown)

Journalism & Publishing

Citizen Reporters: S. S. McClure, Ida Tarbell, and the Magazine That Rewrote America, by Stephanie Gorton (Ecco)

The Extraordinary Life of Jane Wood Reno: Miami’s Trailblazing Journalist, by George Hurchalla (Univ. Press of Florida)

An Unladylike Profession: American Women War Correspondents in World War I, by Chris Dubbs (Potomac)


Aftershocks, by Nadia Owusu (Simon & Schuster)

American Daughter, by Stephanie Plymale and Elissa Wald (HarperOne)

The Fixed Stars, by Molly Wizenberg (Abrams)

★ Just as I Am, by Cicely Tyson (Harper)

The Lost Girls: Love & Literature in Wartime London, by D. J. Taylor (Pegasus)

Love Is an Ex-Country, by Randa Jarrar (Catapult)

More than a Woman, by Caitlin Moran (HarperPerennial)

The Power Notebooks, by Katie Roiphe (Free Press)

★ Recollections of My Nonexistence, by Rebecca Solnit (Viking)

The Sun and Her Stars: Salka Viertel and Hitler’s Exiles in the Golden Age of Hollywood, by Donna Rifkind (Other)

★ This Is Major: Notes on Diana Ross, Dark Girls, and Being Dope, by Shayla Lawson (HarperPerennial)

★ Untamed, by Glennon Doyle (Dial)

The Witch of Eye, by Kathryn Nuernberger (Sarabande)

Writing Wild: Women Poets, Ramblers, and Mavericks Who Shape How We See the Natural World, by Kathryn Aalto (Timber)

Philosophy & Psychology

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close, by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman (Simon & Schuster)

Ordinary Insanity: Fear and the Silent Crisis of Motherhood in America, by Sarah Menkedick (Pantheon)

This Just Speaks to Me, by Hoda Kotb (Putnam)

Yeah, No. Not Happening: How I Found Happiness Swearing Off Self-Improvement and Saying F*ck It All—and How You Can Too, by Karen Karbo (HarperWave)


Clare of Assisi: Gentle Warrior, by Wendy Murray (Paraclete)

Dorothy Day: Dissenting Voice of the American Century, by John Loughery and Blythe Randolph (Simon & Schuster)

Learning to Be: Finding Your Center after the Bottom Falls Out, by Juanita Campbell Rasmus (Intervarsity/IVP)

The Minister’s Wife: A Memoir of Faith, Doubt, Friendship, Loneliness, Forgiveness, and More, by Karen Stiller (Tyndale)

★ The Night Lake: A Young Priest Maps the Topography of Grief, by Liz Tichenor (Counterpoint)

Warriors, Witches, Women: Mythology’s Fiercest Females, by Kate Hodges (Quarto/White Lion)


Ms. Adventure: My Wild Explorations in Science, Lava, and Life, by Jess Phoenix (Timber)

★ The Sediments of Time: My Lifelong Search for the Past, by Meave Leakey and Samira Leakey (HMH)

The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World, by Sarah Stewart Johnson (Crown)

★ The Smallest Lights in the Universe, by Sara Seager (Crown)

Social Sciences

American Baby: A Mother, a Child, and the Shadow History of Adoption, by Gabrielle Glaser (Viking)

Anonymous Is a Woman, by Nina Ansary (Revela)

A Black Women’s History of the United States, by Daina Ramey Berry (Beacon)

A Knock at Midnight: A Story of Hope, Justice, and Freedom, by Brittany K. Barnett (Crown)

A Lab of One’s Own: One Women’s Personal Journey Through Sexism in Science, by Rita Colwell (Simon & Schuster)

Agent Sonya: Moscow’s Most Daring Wartime Spy, by Ben Macintyre (Crown)

The Beauty Defense: Femmes Fatales on Trial, by Laura James (Kent State Univ.)

Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes, by Elizabeth Lesser (HarperWave)

Confident Women: Swindlers, Grifters, and Shapeshifters of the Feminine Persuasion, by Tori Telfer (HarperPerennial)

The Double X Economy: The Epic Potential of Women’s Empowerment, by Linda Scott (Farrar)

Everybody Else Is Perfect: How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes, by Gabrielle Korn (Atria)

Exploring Women’s Suffrage through 50 Historic Treasures, by Jessica D. Jenkins (Rowman & Littlefield)

The Firsts: The Inside Story of the Women Reshaping Congress, by Jennifer Steinhauer (Algonquin)

Free Thinker: Sex, Suffrage, and the Extraordinary Life of Helen Hamilton Gardener, by Kimberly A. Hamlin (Norton)

From Suffrage to the Senate: America’s Political Women: An Encyclopedia of Leaders, Causes & Issues, by Suzanne O’Dea (Grey House)

Hold On, but Don’t Hold Still: Hope and Humor from My Seriously Flawed Life, by Kristina Kuzmic (Viking/Life)

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women That a Movement Forgot, by Mikki Kendall (Viking)

In Our Prime: How Older Women Are Reinventing the Road Ahead, by Susan J. Douglas (Norton)

It’s Not About the Burqa: Muslim Women on Faith, Feminism, Sexuality and Race, edited by Mariam Khan (IPG/Trafalgar Square)

Mad & Bad: Real Heroines of the Regency, by Bea Koch (Grand Central)

Madam C. J. Walker: The Making of an American Icon, by Erica L. Ball (Rowman & Littlefield)

Madam C. J. Walker’s Gospel of Giving: Black Women’s Philanthropy during Jim Crow, by Tyrone McKinley Freeman (Univ. of Illinois)

No More Nice Girls: Gender, Power, and Why It’s Time to Stop Playing by the Rules, by Lauren McKeon (Anansi)

Our House Is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis, by Greta Thunberg, Svante Thunberg, Malena Ernman, and Beata Ernman (Penguin)

Patch Work: A Life Amongst Clothes, by Claire Wilcox (Bloomsbury)

Pelosi, by Molly Ball (Holt)

Pretty Bitches: On Being Called Crazy, Angry, Bossy, Frumpy, Feisty, and All the Other Words That Are Used to Undermine Women, edited by Lizzie Skurnick (Seal)

Prey: Immigration, Islam, and the Erosion of Women’s Rights, by Ayaan Hirsi Ali (Harper)

Queens of the Resistance: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, by Brenda Jones (Plume)

Queens of the Resistance: Elizabeth Warren, by Brenda Jones (Plume)

Queens of the Resistance: Maxine Waters, by Brenda Jones (Plume)

Queens of the Resistance: Nancy Pelosi, by Brenda Jones (Plume)

Rebel Cinderella: Rose Pastor Stokes—Sweatshop Immigrant, Aristocrat’s Wife, Socialist Crusader, by Adam Hochschild (HMH)

Reclaiming Her Time: The Power of Maxine Waters, by Helena Andrews-Dyer and R. Eric Thomas (Morrow/Dey St.)

Run to Win: Lessons in Leadership for Women Changing the World, by Stephanie Schriock and Christina Reynolds (Dutton)

She Votes: How U.S. Women Won Suffrage, and What Happened Next, by Bridget Quinn (Chronicle)

She Will Rise: Becoming a Warrior in the Battle for True Equality, by Katie Hill (Grand Central)

Sisters in Hate: American Women on the Front Lines of White Nationalism, by Seyward Darby (Little, Brown)

The Smart Woman’s Guide to Property Law: Protect Your Assets When You Live with Someone, Marry, Divorce, and More, by Carla Spivack (Rowman & Littlefield)

The Soul of a Woman, by Isabel Allende (Ballantine)

Stop Telling Women to Smile: Stories of Street Harassment and How We’re Taking Back Our Power, by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh (Seal)

Suffrage: Women’s Long Battle for the Vote, by Ellen Carol DuBois (Simon & Schuster)

Sylvia Pankurst: Natural Born Rebel, edited by Rachel Holmes (Bloomsbury)

They Didn’t See Us Coming: The Hidden History of Feminism in the Nineties, by Lisa Levenstein (Basic)

Think like a Feminist: The Philosophy behind the Revolution, by Carol Hay (Norton)

This Is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home, by Lauren Sandler (Random)

Tomboy: The Surprising History and Future of Girls Who Dare to Be Different, by Lisa Selin Davis (Hachette Go)

Troop 6000: The Girl Scout Troop That Began in a Shelter and Inspired the World, by Nikita Stewart (Ballantine)

Use the Power You Have: A Brown Women’s Guide to Politics and Political Change, by Pramila Jayapal (New Press)

Votes for Women!: The American Woman Suffrage Movement and the Nineteenth Amendment, by Marion W. Roydhouse (ABC-CLIO)

Wanderers: A History of Women Walking, by Kerri Andrews (Univ. of Chicago/Reaktion)

Wandering in Strange Lands: A Daughter of the Great Migration Reclaims Her Roots, by Morgan Jerkins (Harper)

The Weatherwomen: Militant Feminists of the Weather Underground, by Mona Rocha (McFarland)

White Feminism: From the Suffragettes to Influencers and Who They Leave Behind, by Koa Beck (Atria)

With Her Fist Raised: Dorothy Pitman Hughes and the Transformative Power of Black Community Activism, by Laura Lovett (Beacon)

You’re the Only One I’ve Told: The Stories behind Abortion, by Meera Shah (Chicago Review)

Sports & Recreation

Brave Enough, by Jessie Diggins and Todd Smith (Univ. of Minnesota)

Camp Girls: Fireside Lessons on Friendship, Courage, and Loyalty, by Iris Krasnow (Grand Central)

Knockout, by Mia Kang (Abrams)

One Life, by Megan Rapinoe and Emma Brockes (Penguin)

Passing the Baton: Black Women Track Stars and American Identity, by Cat M. Ariail (Univ. of Illinois)

Stand Up and Shout Out: Women’s Fight for Equal Pay, Equal Rights, and Equal Opportunities in Sports, by Joan Steidinger (Rowman & Littlefield)


Made Up: How the Beauty Industry Manipulates Consumers, Preys on Women’s Insecurities, and Promotes Unattainable Beauty Standards, by Martha Laham (Rowman & Littlefield)

The Growing Season: How I Saved an American Farm—and Built a New Life, by Sarah Frey (Ballantine)

The Arts

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll, by Maureen Mahon (Duke)

Designing a New Tradition: Loïs Mailou Jones and the Aesthetics of Blackness, by Rebecca VanDiver (Pennsylvania State Univ.)

Dolly Parton, Songteller: My Life in Lyrics, by Dolly Parton and Robert K. Oermann (Chronicle)

Fangirls: Scenes from Modern Music Culture, by Hannah Ewens (Univ. of Texas)

Frida in America: The Creative Awakening of a Great Artist, by Celia Stahr (St. Martin’s)

Happiness Becomes You: A Guide to Changing Your Life for Good, by Tina Turner (Atria)

The Heart: Frida Kahlo in Paris, by Marc Petitjean (Other)

The Heart of a Woman: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price, by Rae Linda Brown and edited by Guthrie P. Ramsey, Jr. (Univ. of Illinois)

I Tried to Change So You Don’t Have To: True Life Lessons, by Loni Love (Hachette Go)

I Want to Be Where the Normal People Are, by Rachel Bloom (Grand Central)

It’s Never Too Late: Make the Next Act of Your Life the Best Act of Your Life, by Kathie Lee Gifford (Thomas Nelson)

Laura’s Ghost: Women Speak about Twin Peaks, by Courtenay Stallings (Fayetteville Mafia)

Looking for Miss America: A Pageant’s 100-Year Quest to Define Womanhood, by Margot Mifflin (Counterpoint)

Me & Patsy Kickin’ Up Dust: My Friendship with Patsy Cline, by Loretta Lynn (Grand Central)

Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, by Hafsa Lodi (Neem Tree)

Nobody Ever Asked Me about the Girls: Women, Music, and Fame, by Lisa Robinson (Holt)

Odetta: A Life in Music and Protest, by Ian Zack (Beacon)

Patti Smith on Patti Smith: Interviews and Encounters, edited by Aidan Levy (Chicago Review)

Phantom Lady: Hollywood Producer Joan Harrison, the Forgotten Woman behind Hitchcock, by Christina Lane (Chicago Review)

Raggin’ On: The Art of Aminah Brenda Lynn Robinson’s House and Journals, edited by Carole M. Genshaft (Ohio Univ.)

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs, by Sarah Smarsh (Scribner)

Survival of the Thickest, by Michelle Buteau (Gallery)

Unfinished, by Priyanka Chopra Jonas (Random)

Unlikely Angel: The Songs of Dolly Parton, by Lydia R. Hamessley (Univ. of Illinois)

What You Become in Flight, by Ellen O’Connell Whittet (Melville)

Adult Fiction


Liberation, by Imogen Kealey (Grand Central)


Betty, by Tiffany McDaniel (Knopf)

Daisy Cooper’s Rules for Living, by Tamsin Keily (Park Row)

The Silent Treatment, by Abbie Greaves (Morrow)

Little Wonders, by Kate Rorick (Morrow)


The Arctic Fury, by Greer Macallister (Sourcebooks/Landmark)

Brontë’s Mistress, by Finola Austin (Atria)

Code Name Hélène, by Ariel Lawhon (Doubleday)

The First Actress, by C. W. Gortner (Ballantine)

For Love and Country, by Candace Waters (Howard)

The Grace Kelly Dress, by Brenda Janowitz (Graydon)

The Light After the War, by Anita Abriel (Atria)

In Love with George Eliot, by Kathy O’Shaughnessy (Scribe)

Jackie and Maria, by Gill Paul (Morrow)

The Joyce Girl, by Annabel Abbs (Morrow)

Miss Austen, by Gill Hornby (Flatiron)

More Miracle Than Bird, by Alice Miller (Tin House)

A Most English Princess, by Clare McHugh (Morrow)

The Paper Daughters of Chinatown, by Heather B. Moore (Shadow Mountain)

The Queen’s Secret, by Karen Harper (Morrow)

Something Worth Doing, by Jane Kirkpatrick (Revell)

Star of Persia: Esther’s Story, by Jill Eileen Smith (Revell)

Stories from Suffragette City, edited by M. J. Rose and Fiona Davis (Holt)

Tsarina, by Ellen Alpsten (St. Martin’s)

The Woman before Wallis, by Bryn Turnbull (MIRA)

The Woman in the Mirror, by Rebecca James (Minotaur)

The Wright Sister, by Patty Dann (HarperPerennial)

Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror

Medusa’s Daughters: Magic and Monstrosity from Women Writers of the Fin-de-Siècle, edited by Theodora Goss (Lanternfish)

The Once and Future Witches, by Alix E. Harrow (Orbit)


About the Author:

Post a Comment